Thursday, July 25, 2013 - Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center to Open a Dental Home for Special Needs Children
Will Be Only Dental Clinic for Special Needs Children in Broward County

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – The Health Foundation of South Florida has awarded Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center (CDTC) a $100,000 grant that will enable the Center to open A Dental Home for Special Needs Children.  The only dental clinic of its kind in Broward County, A Dental Home for Special Needs Children hopes to provide dental care to 700 special health care needs children in its first year of operation.

One of those who will benefit from A Dental Home for Special Needs Children is Rhonda Hill.  Hill, whose son Jack, 12, is autistic, has been unable to find a dentist who accepts children with special healthcare needs.

“It’s such a challenge to treat these kids,” Hill said.  “Especially if they have high sensory issues or are biters or scratchers, it becomes a problem.”

Hill added that when her son was younger, she was able to get Jack to a dentist, but the only way he could be treated was to be anesthetized.  And because his autism makes treatment difficult, routine dentist visits are not the norm, thus causing Jack to suffer from multiple cavities.

Hill is not alone in her struggles to find a dentist who accepts special health care needs children. A survey recently conducted by CDTC showed that 31 percent of its patients, who suffer from autism, cerebral palsy, and other developmental and physical delays, have never seen a dentist.  In addition, only 10 percent of dentists in Florida accept Medicaid, creating a gap in dental care for low-income children.  The majority of CDTC’s 10,000-plus annual patients are economically and socially disadvantaged as well as physically challenged, which makes the burden of finding a dentist even more difficult for parents of CDTC patients.

According to the Kaiser Commission on Children and Oral Health, tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease among children ages 6 to 18, and dental and oral disease have been linked to ear and sinus infections, weakened immune systems, diabetes, heart and lung disease, and other serious health conditions.  These problems are heightened with special health care needs children, who often do not react in predictable ways during routine treatments and have sensory issues that can be exacerbated by dental care, ultimately creating more stress for the dentist and child in care.

With the $100,000 from the Health Foundation of South Florida, which will be used to hire a dentist who specializes in special health care needs children, as well as $50,000 from the Martin Youngstrom Foundation as a cash match, $42,499 from the Fred Millsaps Dental Clinic Fund and $3,940 from CDTC’s Sunflower Circle of Friends, A Dental Home for Special Needs Children is set to become a reality in early September.  The clinic already boasts two chairs and needed equipment. Now, CDTC must hire the dentist and hygienist.  The Center has also applied for foundation support for a dental assistant.

“We are so grateful to the Health Foundation of South Florida for their support of our new dental program for children with special needs,” said Dr. Susan Widmayer, executive director of CDTC. “The Foundation’s assistance will allow us to provide oral health care to hundreds of children this year, most of whom have never seen a dentist before. We anticipate that the program’s future is sustainable through Medicaid, insurance and donations from the community.”

A Dental Home for Special Needs Children at CDTC will offer services five days per week, including preventative care (exams, cleanings, sealants, etc.) and dental procedures (restoration, fillings, extractions, etc.). Referrals to the dental clinic will be made by CDTC physicians and case managers.

“It’s a huge need; it’s a problem for children who can’t afford or get to dental and health care services. It’s just so badly needed to have a one-stop-shop.  If I can go to one location and get medical and dental services for my child, it’s going to be great,” Hill said.

Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 10,000 children with special health care needs in Broward County. CDTC’s mission is to promote the optimal health and well-being of children with special healthcare needs by providing comprehensive prevention, intervention and treatment services within a medical home environment.  CDTC is a nationally recognized “Center of Excellence” offering a unique system of care for infants, children and youth with chronic illnesses, disabilities and developmental delays.  All medical care and social services are provided regardless of the families’ ability to pay.